I just finished re-watching and writing about a three-hour movie that had actors screaming "FATHER!!!" every couple of minutes ("Ran"). A few days ago, I wrote about a movie that features a criminal who runs away from one father only to find a father-figure in the man trying to catch him ("Catch Me If You Can"). Now, I'm embarking on the enterprise of reviewing a movie in which characters refer to their society's leader as "Father". What is it with filmmakers and fathers? Did someone's daddy neglect him or her? :-)
In "Equilibrium", people live in the global state of Libria not too far in the future. Because of a devastating third world war that was fought during the early 21st Century, the leaders of the world determined that humanity's extreme emotions were the cause of violent conflicts. Therefore, "Father" decreed that everyone should take daily doses of a drug that suppresses feelings. "Sense offenders" (people who feel by refusing "the dose") are sent to combustion chambers, and elite law enforcement agents known as Clerics, a quasi-monastic order of fighters, go after difficult targets in "The Nether" (basically, the non-doped suburbs).
The movie begins with Cleric Preston (Christian Bale) going after a band of heavily armed sense offenders hiding several famous paintings in a warehouse. With his "Gun Kata" skills, Preston decimates the sense offenders even though he is badly outnumbered. He then orders the destruction ("Burn it") of the most iconic of paintings, the Mona Lisa.
Sean Bean (Boromir in "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring") makes a cameo as Preston's partner. Bean's character turns out to be a sense offender, so Preston has to execute him. However, executing his partner triggers something in Preston, so he stops taking "the dose" and begins to emote. For the first time in his life, Preston understands what it means to be sorry and what true friendship entails. He even learns to love/lust. Needless to say, the best defender of the Librian faith is also the one who will destroy Libria. Preston contacts the underground movement, and everyone decides that the best way to overthrow the totalitarian government is for Preston to assassinate Father.
Director/writer Kurt Wimmer (he wrote the theft sequences seen in the John McTiernan/Pierce Brosnan re-make of "The Thomas Crown Affair") envisions a world that is actually rather conceivable. Human passions have led us to do awfully self-destructive things, so it's possible that an idealist would advocate the forcible subjugation of emotions in order to avoid large-scale disasters. Wimmer's Libria borrows heavily from Nazi Germany, George Orwell's "1984", Imperial Rome, and the "clad-in-black cool" esthetic of the 1980s and 1990s, so the movie looks "real", too. I also enjoyed the "Gun Kata" fighting technique invented for the movie. "Gun Kata" involves a person making mathematical estimates involving the trajectories of bullets and the positions of opponents. Therefore, a man can actually stand in one place, avoid being killed by ducking at the right times, and kill a roomful of enemies without having to look in any particular direction.
"Equilibrium" is too obvious to be a top-tier movie. For example, there are too many fake climaxes that get you all excited for no reason. Before the climactic confrontation, Preston finds himself in two big gunfights that feel as if all hell is going to break loose. Preston is also arrested twice, and each arrest feels as if the movie is about to end on a downbeat note when in fact, they were just "Monkey made you look!" scenarios. Also, for the film's real finale, Preston wears an all-white ceremonial suit. Yes, he's the good guy, but did the filmmakers really have to make him wear the clichéd clothes of a "good knight"?
Ultimately, despite how un-filled I felt after watching it, I think that "Equilibrium" is a valiant effort. Its premise is plausible, and even the "Gun Kata" fighting technique makes sense. However, I would've preferred that the script offered a couple of more ideas than its simple foundation. I certainly prefer this kind of movie to ones like "The Matrix"--ones made by people who think themselves into knots and who end up tripping over their own pretentiousness, self-importance, and self-perceived "coolness".
Given its recent vintage, the film's 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen video transfer looks exceptionally good. Sharp detailing preserves the ability for viewers to see every little object, down to the black-on-black uniforms of the Clerics. I did see some source-print defects, though (small scratches and hairs), and film grain was not as controlled during some scenes when compared to the rest of the movie.
Mostly, the Dolby Digital 5.1 English audio track is just plain loud. Deep bass thunders quite often, not only during action sequences but also during moments of relative calm in order to provide a sense of atmosphere. The front soundstage is very wild, of course, though the rears don't seem to have as much to do as you would think. The mix has been professionally but not expertly created--given how precise "Gun Kata" is, precise sound effects positioning and imaging is surprisingly not-so-good.
English subtitles (provided as captions) as well as English closed captions support the audio.
Director/writer Kurt Wimmer provides two audio commentaries for the "Equilibrium" DVD. He talks about the movie by himself on the first commentary, and producer Lucas Foster joins Wimmer for the second. Although the commentaries provide information about the production, I wish that the filmmakers had discussed the ideas behind the creation of the movie's dystopian society. The "Gun Kata" fighting technique is self-explanatory enough--what I want to know is why Wimmer doesn't seem to see the contradiction embodied by Libria's police state--that is, if there is no war because no one is supposed to feel extreme emotions, then why do security forces engage in extreme violence? Aren't the Clerics fighting a war every day???
"Finding ‘Equilibrium'" is a four-minute promo for the movie. It wants to be considered as a making-of featurette, but except for some behind-the-scenes footage, there's nothing in "Finding ‘Equilibrium'" that seriously tells viewers how the movie was made.
It's probably just as well that "Finding ‘Equilibrium'" plays like a four-minute trailer for the movie. You see, Mala Vista continues to place bucketloads of trailers, previews, promos, etc. on its DVDs, but for some unfathomable reason, it refuses to include trailers for features on their self-same DVDs. Why oh why oh why?
"Equilibrium" has plenty of ideas, and the costumes and sets look great. (Those poorly disguised Cadillacs stick out like sore thumbs, though.) The fight scenes are thrilling in a nihilistic fashion. However, the movie has a soft middle act, and the script isn't very layered or emotionally resonant. If the film had been directed by a skilled director rather than a first-timer, it might've been something to behold. Still, this is a commendable effort from Kurt Wimmer.